It seems to be widely accepted that the rapid de-industrialisation of the British economy was unwise and successive governments have spoken of the need to reinvigorate the manufacturing sector, however due to these governments’ hesitancy to interfere with market forces little has been done. For around 100 years the British government had been in some way involved in the manufacture of vehicles, and by restarting this industrial tradition thousands of jobs that cannot be outsourced will be created. I propose that the British government restarts manufacturing vehicles, as it did until 1986.
Rather than establishing the company as a bureaucratically centralised enterprise where all main decision-making would take place by state-selected managers; the company itself would be an federation composed of companies in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, with these individual companies organised as a federation of co-operatively run workplaces. Responsibility of each national company would reside with the devolved assemblies and would be bound by legislation from those assemblies; the English company would be administered in the same way from Westminster. Should Scotland finally become independent and the Union dissolve, the company would continue as an international federation with the financing and structure remaining largely the same.
Whenever the company’s national decisions and policies had to be decided each workplace would nominate a few representatives to put that workforce’s opinions forward in an AGM, with this congress of representatives democratically determining company policy.
The British government’s previous foray into vehicle manufacture had the company issue shares with the state being the largest shareholder. I propose that the company would be completely separate from the state and that the entirety of governmental involvement would be in the company’s original creation with the state providing start-up capital rather than being a shareholder. Instead of the funnelling the company’s profits back into the Treasury, the company would be heavily regulated by parliamentary statute but would in effect be a private entity. The financial benefits of the company’s existence would be increased employment, higher tax revenues and a lower welfare budget as fewer people would be claiming unemployment benefit; the money saved annually would act as the return on the original investment.
Legislation would be put forward that would legally compel the company to never have profits essentially setting it up as public service like the NHS, but would be totally self-financing. Profits that are generated would be split 50:50; half of the profits would go towards research and development, and the other half would be equally divided between each workforce and the workers would vote to decide what to do with that money.
In terms of employment the company would create jobs in design, manufacturing and engineering with many others created indirectly; the company would manufacture all kinds of vehicles from cars and lorries to buses and forklifts. Employment would guaranteed as parliamentary statute would compel government vehicles to be manufactured by the company and could also make private companies with government contracts to have a certain percentage of vehicles in service manufactured by the company.
A key part of ensuring the long-term stability of the company would be a focus on environmental and economic sustainability. The company would deliberately work to make vehicles that didn’t run off fossil fuels and would invest in renewable energy to provide electricity for factory operations. Economic sustainability would result in the company only selling vehicles domestically, therefore not inflating the amount of employees before scaling back the company’s size because of changes of policy in other countries. By only manufacturing vehicles for domestic demand fewer carbon emissions would be given off in transportation and the company, making the country self-sufficient on vehicles, wouldn’t use an excess of resources.
However the success of any left-wing policy is in shifting the public consensus significantly enough to make the policy’s reversal politically impossible, making the policy what I call ‘Tory Proof’. Due to the structure and financing of the company I believe that any Tory government that would seek to undermine the success of the company would be handing the election to the Opposition.
Unlike historical examples of state-run vehicle companies like British Leyland, the state is not a shareholder and as a result cannot privatise the company. The strategic placing of the workplaces by the government when the company was brought into existence would also deter any right-wing government from challenging the company’s operations; no government would dare potentially undermining a large number of well-paid jobs in marginal constituencies. Furthermore a future Tory government wouldn’t be able to tout the need for well-paying manufacturing and engineering jobs whilst also eroding the company’s financial stability through allowing the government to purchase non-company vehicles; when considering the amount of money spend on R&D it would be hard for any government to endorse any policy that would put scientists and engineers out of work.
On an ideological level Thatcherites, who would be most likely to resent the company’s success, would be unable to impact the company without contradicting their own principles as it would involve using the power of the state to hurt the operations of a private institution, thus interfering with the free market (which would be especially damning if the company was successful).
Financially speaking the arguments against previously owned state-institutions would not apply. Because the workers run the company democratically, the arguments against bureaucratic centralisation would no longer be applicable as decisions would be taken by the people they affect. Inefficiency would also not be a convincing argument because, with workers controlling a significant amount of the profits, they would be motivated to work harder and reduce operating costs. Finally because the company would be self-financing and would not grow exponentially, the argument that the company would be a drain on state finances would be false on two counts: profits would essentially be guaranteed by state contracts, and it would be a private entity so the state wouldn’t be a shareholder.
By establishing a state-run vehicle company jobs will be secured in Britain and not dependent upon the will of corporate executives. A company that is focussed on technological advancement, sustainability and worker participation would result in the organisation being completely self-financing without the need for continual state subsidies, whilst also making its subversion politically suicidal. Guaranteeing employment by using socialist economics will shift political debate away from the post-Thatcher neo-liberal consensus towards a society where democracy is prevalent in the workplace.